That’s right…THE Tab Hunter! And even got to ask him three questions. The Village East on Manhattan’s East 11th Street and Third Avenue was showing a very limited run of the new documentary: “TAB HUNTER CONFIDENTIAL” so I made the trek into the East Village to see it. I thought I was just going to watch this boring doc and really just see an old movie star from the 1950’s and get my classic films-fix filled. Well I got so much more.
Film historian Foster Hirsch came out and introduced the film and said there’d be a Q & A with star Tab Hunter after the screening and a more charming man we would not ever see. He was absolutely right.
The documentary was very well-done. Produced by Allan Glaser there contained a ton of archival footage of Tab Hunter’s career to let you see just how big a movie star he was. I mean, he was EVERYwhere. They interviewed some ladies who knew him in high school, who said that Hunter (growing up as Art Gelien) was so drop
dead gorgeous, he literally had problems walking down the hallway from class to class. He would be constantly swarmed by girls; even having to duck into an empty classroom and locking the door. An exaggeration? Folks, I kid you not. The photos of him as a young teen are breath-taking. Yes..California blonde, blue-eyed, tanned skin. School got so bad for him that he lied about his age and joined the Coast Guard. ( He was later discharged when they found out he was underaged ). He had an older brother whom he idolized, and it was his brother who always pushed him out from his introverted shell. Both boys grew up witnessing an abusive marriage. Their mother soon divorced and raised her sons as a single parent, holding down several jobs to survive.
He was discovered by actor Dick Clayton ( later becoming Hunter’s agent ) during a photo shoot Clayton was doing with Ann Blyth out at a horse ranch Tab worked at. One thing led to another where Hunter was introduced to famed agent Henry Wilson, and he was off to the races making an immediate impact in the industry. Hunter acknowledged his acting sucked and vowed to learn and train if he was going to be in this profession. He knew all along he was gay and knew that his life depended on him hiding that fact. The documentary shows just how restrictive life was for the gay and lesbian community in the 50’s. It was something not even talked about amongst themselves. He dated a lot of starlets ( Debbie Reynolds and Natalie Wood included ) but it would never ever have occurred to him to discuss his sexuality with them. During the Q & A Hunter said his strong German Catholic background was all about privacy. It was a very very different time. I don’t think we realize today just how different things were then for that community.
It was great seeing the film clips from some of his movies like “The Sea Chase” “Island of Desire” ( in which his own mother said he was lousy ) “Track of the Cat” “That Kind of Woman” “Damn Yankees” etc. The film covers his relationship with Anthony Perkins and show talking heads with his contemporaries: Debbie Reynolds, Robert Wagner, Terry Moore, Connie Stevens, Dolores Hart, Clint Eastwood and our very own Robert Osborne. Hunter knew he started out as nothing but a pretty face with Warner Brothers who cashed in on him big-time by lending him out to other studios while paying him very little. I know I know, you’re thinking he didn’t get the roles that contemporaries Brando, Dean, Clift or Newman got. No. And he was totally marketed as the All-American Boy. But he did work towards getting better, even doing theatre work to wonderful reviews. He eventually wanted out of his contract with Jack Warner, and watched the machine go into high gear to promote with new kid on the block: Troy Donahue.
I really enjoyed the film and saw the machinery it took for the studios to create and protect their commodity. Tab Hunter was introduced to the audience with a standing ovation. First let me gush. He is 84 years old and ruggedly handsome. His memory is sharp and he is as clear as a bell. I can’t explain what I mean when I say he speaks contemporarily. He speaks like a modern person of today speaks. He seems like a very kind, gentle spirit. He knows the reality of The Business and suffered hard knocks from it, but doesn’t seem to hold a grudge. When the floor was opened to questions, I managed to get some in:
( 1. ) Who was his favorite actress to work with?
Geraldine Page. He did a Playhouse 90 with her.
( 2. ) Would you ever consider coming back into films?
No, not unless Clint Eastwood asked him.
( 3. ) How was it doing all those love scenes with actresses, like Sophia Loren?
“Sophia Loren? Who wouldn’t want to kiss Sophia Loren?!!!”
Tab Hunter and film’s producer Allan Glaser ( Hunter’s partner of thirty years )
I enjoyed the film a lot, and the actor even more. He’s so unassuming, gentle, genuine. And yes…ruggedly handsome. ( I’ve gotta go there. ) Producer Glaser said it took a lot for him to convince Tab Hunter to write a book about his life and do the documentary. Hunter was private. His movie career was another lifetime, and he was totally content to be forgotten. He made a place for himself in classic films of the 50’s. I urge you to see the documentary. He really shouldn’t be forgotten.
Here is a brief excerpt I filmed of his interview:
( H O M E )